Many armies in the Napoleonic period were experiencing organization and tactical changes partly brought on by the wiles of the Corsican.  So too the Russian army was undergoing progressive change after the assassination of Tsar Paul, the accession of his son Alexander, and the influences of Count Arakcheyev and Baron Barclay de Tolly.   From 1805 to 1814 the number of changes could span volumes, and have, so this is a bit basic on the Russians for the Campaign of 1812.

Before 1808 Russian regiments were organized according to an series of "inspections."  These were the provinces or areas from which the regiment was raised.  A St. Petersburg Inspection unit, such as the Pavlov Grenadiers, would be from the St. Petersburg area; one from the Crimea, to the Crimean Inspection and so forth. In 1808 the Inspection system was abolished being replaced by a Divisional structure.

With the abolition of the system of organization by "Inspection," the Russian's under Barclay de Tolly moved to a "divisional" and "corps" system similar to the French model. While the model was similar, the Russians unfortunately never developed the same flexibility in employment as Napoleon's.  Worse, Barclays reforms were sometimes never fully understood, much less implemented, by subordinate commanders. The significant factor was that this was the first time the Russians had a permanent field organization larger than the regiment and was a quantum leap in it's ability to deal with the French.  By the start of the 1812 invasion the Russians had deployed several armies each of multiple corps and divisions of combined arms. 

The major groups facing Napoleon at the outset of the 1812 Campaign were:

1st Army of West
2nd Army of West
3rd Army of West
Danube Army
Other Forces
General Baron Barclay DeTolly
Prince Bagration
Lt. General Tormasov
Admiral Tchichagov
Various Local Commanders 1
1 Divisions were scattered about the empire as security and reserve units and not assigned to larger operational units.


  • By the beginning of the Campaign of 1812 the structure was, in descending order of size:


    1. Army
    2. Corps
    3. Division
    4. Brigade
    5. Regiment
    6. Battalions/Squadrons/Batteries
    7. Companies
    8. Platoon


Varied depending on need and the point in time referenced.  At the start of the 1812 Campaign there were four field armies.  The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and the Army of the Danube.  Later, the 1st and 2nd were merged into the "principle army"; the 3rd merged with the Army of the Danube, the becoming a new  and larger "3rd." 


Size and organization varied according to needs of the moment and which combat arm being considered.  The First Army of the West for example contained the first five Corps, while the Second Army of the West contained only the Sixth and Seventh Corps.


While it too could vary in size and components, the basic Russian infantry division of 1812 usually looked like this: 

wpe22.jpg (37691 bytes)

The Brigade

For infantry a brigade consisted of two infantry or jager regiments. Artillery brigades had one position (heavy) battery and two light batteries. Cavalry brigades were two to three regiments, each with five field squadrons for heavy and medium cavalry, and 10 squadrons per regiment for light cavalry.

The Regiment

The primary organizational unit of the Napoleonic Russian army.  For the most part the infantry regiment contained three battalions and it was generally named for the city or town in which it was first raised. The "ski" on the end of Russian unit names translates essentially as "from."  So the "Pavlovski Grenadiers" would be from "Pavlovsk," etc.  Only one infantry regiment was named for a person by 1812,  the "Arakcheyev Infantry Regiment,"  in honor of Count Arakcheyev the Minister of War preceding Barclay de Tolly and close friend of Tsar Alexander I.

The Battalion

While each infantry regiment "technically" had three battalions in it, only two were usually in the field: except the guard units which  fielded all three. For the line infantry the actual 2nd Battalion served at home as a training and replacement depot. Only the 1st and 3rd Battalions were normally in the field, so in the "Division" organization table above the "2nd Battalion" is in reality a second "field" battalion.

At the peak of the 1812 invasion the Russians began to strip any and all usable formations, usually the grenadiers,  out of these depots lumping them into "converged" battalions or regiments of the sort found in the actual order of battle on the eve of Borodino.

At full strength an infantry or jager  battalion would contain 646 men in four companies. 



  • There were three basic line infantry types in the regular Russian Army in 1812: four if you count the Opolochenie (militia).  Five with the guard which, in reality, was a class unto themselves.


    • The four basic types
      • Musketeer or (later termed ) Infantry Regiments (standard line infantry) -96 
      • Grenadier Infantry Regiments (elite) - 14
      • Jager Infantry Regiments (light infantry & skirmishers)  - 50
      • Opolochenie (militia) often armed with pikes due to a lack of muskets - unspecified  and varied numbers


    • Guard units (very elite)
      • Preobrajenski Guard Grenadier Regiment
      • Semionovski Guard Grenadier Regiment
      • Ismailovski Guard Grenadier Regiment
      • Jagerski Guard Regiment  (light)
      • Finnlandski Guard Regiment 
      • Litovski (Lithuania) Guard Regiment (light)
      • "Guard Equipage" - 1 Battalion - (Marines)
      • Guard Sappers - 1 Battalion (Engineers)
Guard units had distinctive uniform differences, and pay and benefits higher than equivalent line unit rates. Infantry privates in the Guard were paid at the rate of a line-infantry corporal for example.
The Pavlovski Grenadier Regiment would be added to the Guard near the close of the Napoleonic Wars.

By 1812 the Russian army consisted of 27 Divisions.  There were 96 regiments of line infantry, 14 regiments of grenadiers, and 50 regiments of Jagers.  Infantry regiment manpower at full authorized "paper" strength was about 2,033 officers and men (Nafziger); or 2,256 for line regiments and 1,385 for jager regiments (Haythornewaite).  There were six Guard regiments plus the Marine and Sapper battalions. On paper,  the potential Russian army was over 500,000 infantry. 

In reality, most line regiments were far below normal strength and were predictably worse after Borodino.  Many sources cite contemporary observers reporting some Russian "regiments" with hardly enough men to constitute a normal "battalion". Nafziger's indexes for "Napoleons Invasion of Russia" show that 10 October 1812, about a month after Borodino,  strength totals for the 4th Infantry Division of about 850  men in each of it's four line regiments. Regiments that should have mustered about 2,000 each!  Worse yet, of these only 400-450 are "veterans" with an big influx of about 400 Opolochenie, and "recruits."  Even with those they still got to far less than half their authorized "paper" strength!! 

The depot battalions --the regiment's third battalion back home--, called the "supply" army,  when mobilized for the 1812 Campaign fielded another eight  infantry divisions (118,000 men).

Russian Line Infantry was solid and brave, but marginally (perhaps somewhat indifferently)  trained and eclectically equipped in firearms.  The primary arm being the smooth bore flintlock made largely at the Tula arsenal and bearing it's name.  Some units were equipped with British "Brown Bess" muskets which were apparently highly prized. The triangular socket bayonet was standard, and the grenadier units often carried a short infantry sword in addition.  Depending on which supreme commander was controlling, either the bayonet (Kutuzov) or firearm (De Tolly) was the predominate and favored weapon.

The Russian army remained a conscripted force, made up largely from impoverished and illiterate Serfs essentially in service for life, and led by officers from the upper classes. It is said that the conscripts departure from his village was permanent, and almost treated like a death, as he was unlikely to see his "home" again.  Even so, the Russian on the defensive protecting his motherland was an awesome force; capable of inflicting and accepting horrendous casualties as Napoleon soon discovered to his embarrassment at Eylau, Friedland and finally the 1812 Invasion of Russia and the  pivotal battle of Borodino.

Although the Russian Army contained substantial light infantry, it is said that their deployment as skirmishers never had the flexibility or efficacy of the French or British units of like character.   


  • There were seven classes of Russian cavalry (1812)
    • Cuirassier Regiments (heavy) - 6 Regiments rising to 8 in 1812
    • Dragoon Regiments (med. to med. heavy) - 36 Regiments down to 21 by 1813
    • Hussar Regiments (light) - 11 Regiments
    • Uhlan Regiments (lancers) - 5 Regiments rising to 12 by 1813
    • Mounted Jaegers or Chasseurs (light) - 8 Regiments (after 1812)
    • Cossacks (light-irregulars) - varied 
    • Guard cavalry - (very elite)
      • Chevalier-Guard Cuirassier Regiment (ultra elite; large number of the nobility as members) 
      • Horse Guards Cuirassier Regiment
      • Lifeguard Cuirassier Regiment
      • Lifeguard Dragoon Regiment
      • Lifeguard Hussar Regiment
      • Lifeguard Mounted Jaeger Regiment
      • Lifeguard Uhlan Regiment
      • Lifeguard Cossacks
The decline in dragoon regiments 1812-1813 was due to conversion of some dragoon regiments to other classes of cavalry: Cuirassiers, Uhlans and Mounted Jagers.  A similar flux can be found in infantry regiments as line regiments were converted provide a rapid increase in Jager regiments; to replace regiments promoted to the guard; and in the raising of new regiments to replace the line regiments so converted.

The Corps was the largest cavalry formation with containing  about 3,000 - 4,000 troopers in two divisions.

Cavalry Divisions generally consisted of three brigades of horse for light and medium cavalry divisions, and two brigades for cuirassier divisions, two regiments per brigades. There was no attached artillery brigade as with the infantry, only attached individual batteries. The mix of units within brigades was not uniform. A brigade's regimental mix could be dragoon/hussar, hussar/hussar, hussar/uhlan, cuirassier/cuirassier, etc. However, while mixed in the organizational chart, the combat employment was based on the class of cavalry, heavy, medium and light.  I find no examples of mixing of dissimilar classes in a combat formation and were probably always used in singular regimental formations..  

Cavalry regiments were the basic tactical cavalry formation. They were composed of "squadrons" initially with five to a regiment for cuirassier and dragoons; and 10 squadrons per regiment for Hussar and Uhlan.  By 1812 many classes of cavalry saw increases of one or two squadrons per regiment, particularly cuirassier regiments.

The cavalry squadron was the equivalent of the infantry battalion. Each squadron was further broken into two half-squadrons, each half-squadron consisted of two platoons and each platoon of two half-platoons. Largely for the execution of mounted movements and formation change rather than tactical combat formations. 

Cavalry manpower was 864 troopers for cuirassier, 897 for dragoon, and 1,660 for hussar and uhlan regiments depending on the time period.

Heavy cavalry used a straight bladed "pallasche" style sword and, dependant on period and unit considered, wore no cuirass, a front plate only, or full front and back plates. The cuirass was generally black painted steel, with some exceptions whose units wore plain steel cuirasses.  Medium cavalry (Dragoons) , and light cavalry used a lighter, curved saber and the Dragoons carried a carbine musket.  Uhlan regiments carried the light saber, and the lance.

Russian cavalry was very well-horsed, equipped and manned, but it's tactical employment never reached it's full potential.  They rarely used cavalry in the same massive "shock" formations of the French and the sophistication of their cavalry drill was reportedly inferior to the French. It was said by some that if it's tactics and employment had at least approached French competence that the era's Russian's would have had the predominate cavalry arm of Europe. 


Russians love artillery! The artillery arm of Alexander I was highly professional, well trained and excellently equipped.  In fact it may have arguably been the finest artillery arm in Napoleonic Europe.  If it had a weakness it was, first, that the commanders were usually aristocrats rather than artillery specialists hampering consistent and proper use of the guns.  Second, as much as the Russian's loved the guns, they hated losing them, and too often would pull the guns rearward out of action whenever threatened.   As part of his reforms Barclay de Tolly felt that no battery commander should be criticized for losing a gun if it was done while inflicting harm on the enemy, but apparently they did not always follow the suggestion.

GUNS 12 8 8 6 6- 8
MEN Light Battery-160 Light Battery-138 97 145 187
Heavy Battery- 240 Heavy Battery-203

Most war games do not take into consideration the heavier weight of metal available in a Russian battery over that of other nations. Drat!!

In 1805, the Russian arm underwent a revamping along lines similar to Gribeauval's in France.  Under the "System of 1805" the guns were standardized in 6-pound and 12-pound cannon, and 10-pound and 20-pound  "licornes."  A  three pounder  licorne was initially deployed but later dropped after the Battle of Friedland as being "ineffective."  The licorne was a unique Russian gun, being a hybrid howitzer with a longer barrel and different chambering that gave it a flatter trajectory, greater range and accuracy than conventional howitzers.  All Russian guns were fitted with screw thread elevation adjustment rather than the wedges (quoins)  used by most nations and were equipped with one of, if not the best, sighting systems then available.

Artillery Ratios

Russian artillery levels in guns-per-man reached it's peak at the Battle of Eylau at 6 guns per 1,000 men. 

An artillerist by training, Napoleon's ideal goal was 5 per 1,000 and his best achieved ratio was only 4 per 1,000!  

The Russian artillery arm consisted of three primary classes of batteries: "Position" or heavy batteries, light batteries and horse batteries.  Position batteries consisted of four 20-pound licornes, eight 12-pound cannon (four medium 12-pound cannon, four short 12-pound cannon by some sources) and served by 240 men.  Light batteries and horse batteries consisted of four 10-pound licornes and eight 6-pound cannon served by 160 men.

There are variations, according to your source, on the number and types of guns in artillery brigades particularly in the position batteries.  Nafziger reports it as shown above but Terence Wise, "Artillery Equipments of the Napoleonic Wars," has it as four 12pdr, four 6pdr, and agrees on the licornes. 
I favor Nafziger's cite for two reasons:
 First, his extensive tables of combat losses at Borodino show no 6pdr gun or caisson loss for any Position Battery.  Those position battery tables show losses in the batteries for the 12 lb guns. The tables also show 6 lb losses in the  light and horse batteries, which both sources agree contained 6pdrs.  I would be hard to imagine if the 6's were in the 12 lb batteries that in every case they alone would escape losses,  so I am sure Position Batteries did not have the 6pdrs.
Second, as a war-gamer I'll take another four 12's in a battery over four 6pdr cannon any day!  

By 1812 the Russians field armies had 161 batteries: 44 heavy, 58 light, and 22 horse artillery totaling 1,699 guns.  The Guard had it's own artillery arm of eight batteries: two heavy, two light and four horse.  There was also Cossack artillery; along with assorted depot, garrison and siege batteries. As discussed above, each infantry division had an artillery brigade attached to it, but horse batteries were apparently assigned at one battery per cavalry division with some exceptions.

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     Last updated: 01/20/2018 22:18:27              Copyright 1998 William L. Liddell